The League of Women Voters of Hawaii opposes the intent of HB 1151 which would impose a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment for certain theft crimes committed against victims 60 years of age and older. Our opposition would also apply to HB 1152 for which we did not write separate testimony because it would be identical to this.
The League of Women Voters of Hawaii is opposed to mandatory minimum sentences as an intrusion on the responsibility of the courts to treat each defendant fairly, based on all of the facts of the case, the criminal history of the defendant and the circumstances surrounding the case.
One-size-fits-all sentencing policies are too inflexible to always lead to fair decisions in sentencing. The judge who is most familiar with each case should the the one who can determine the appropriate sentence. If the defendant or the prosecution feels that the sentence is not appropriate, they have the right to appeal to a higher court. That is our system of justice.
Courts are accountable to the laws and the constitutions of our individual states and the federal constitution. They best serve the public — all members of public: minorities, majorities, and individuals—by applying the laws fairly and protecting the rights of everyone. I, personally, wouldn’t want it any other way. Whether I’m innocent or guilty of a crime or civil wrong, I want every protection the law affords me for a fair verdict and, if found guilty, a fair sentence, not some draconian mandated sentence that leaves me no hope of redemption.
We frequently read stories of the attempts by the legislative bodies of different states and cities, and yes, even Congress, to strip the courts of some of their jurisdiction and their independence because the courts stand in the way of their desire to enact laws that reflect their ideologies or their own sense of what is right and wrong.
Laws can be changed and the constitutions amended, and the courts would have to apply those laws and the constitutional provisions as amended in the adjudication of cases before them.
Having said that, the Judiciary is a co-equal branch of government. Whereas the executive branches and the legislatures are accountable to the people, the Judiciary is accountable to the laws and the constitutions. The framers of the constitutions planned it that way so that every individual, rich or poor, of a majority group or of a minority group, would have the same rights under the law.
We maintain that imposing mandatory minimum sentencing on the courts comes very close to, if not in clear violation of, the doctrine of the separation of powers. For our governments at all levels to work properly, each of the three co-equal branches of government must respect the jurisdictions of the other two while exerting the proper checks on them to maintain the proper balance among the three branches.
We urge you hold this bill in committee.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify on HB 1151.